May 15, 1995 Vreme News Digest Agency No 189

The Moderates

All Dzakula's Arrests

by Uros Komlenovic'

He realized that Western Slavonia attracted childish retired generals who demanded white horses, mediators who offered the people Croat houses in Eastern Slavonia and bearded volunteers interested only in robbery and playing high level games

The Croatian TV pictures showing a handcuffed Veljko Dzakula being taken away by two Croatian policemen could prove the essential closeness of the regimes in Belgrade, Zagreb and Knin. Dzakula was arrested earlier by the Krajina (RSK) police, later by the Serbian state security and now he has a chance to see the Croatian police up close.

The Croatians released him but the prevailing impression is that anyone who tries politics at local level in the interest of the common folk will get a clear warning: the fate of towns and people can be decided only by the "fathers of the nations" who don't like locals interfering.

The 45 year old Dzakula graduated from the Belgrade forestry school and was director of the Sumarija in Pakrac before the war. When the political turmoil began in Croatia he accepted an invitation from the late Jovan Raskovic and became Serb Democratic Party (SDS) leader for Slavonia. The fact that Western Slavonia Serbs voted mainly for Racan's (pro-Communist) SDP and that the SDS had a hard time winning positions in the W.W.II partisan area, forced Dzakula to adapt and respect the mood of the Slavonia Serbs who are traditionally not adept at violence and won't take up arms easily.

However, the first serious armed clash happened in Dzakula's home town of Pakrac on March 2, 1991. Under pressure from local Serbs whose relatives were imprisoned by the Croatian police, he and Milorad Pupovac negotiated with Tudjman in Zagreb and drew the wrath of the Knin hawks. On the other hand, the imprisoned Serbs were released and that strengthened Dzakula's popularity.

Later when the war broke out, Slavonia Serbs formed the autonomous region of Western Slavonia and elected him to head it. He realized that the region's strategic position was not good and expected help from Belgrade. But Belgrade seems to have had other plans.

We know almost everything about the panic-stricken flight of some 10,000 people from Daruvar, Vocin, Grubisino Polje and other villages on the Papuk and Psunj mountains. State TV paid careful attention to these refugees, using their tragedy to fan the mood for war. What we didn't find out is who ordered the withdrawal and why. Soon everything was clear: a large number of those refugees were resettled in the houses of Croats who fled Ilok, Erdut, Vukovar, Baranja.

Part of Western Slavonia (Okucani, part of Pakrac, Jasenovac, Stara Gradiska) remained in Serb hands and Dzakula stayed with the people (his apartment was in the Croat controlled part of Pakrac). He began advancing in early 1992, becoming RSK prime minister, and he immediately contacted the local Croatian authorities to try to normalize the infrastructure in divided Pakrac and bring Serbs back to at least some of the 185 abandoned villages. Those talks resulted in an agreement signed by Dzakula and five Western Slavonia Serb leader in February 1993.

Since that agreement, Dzakula has been waging a battle not just for the Serbs to stay in Slavonia but for his political career as well, even his existence. First he was ousted as prime minister then he was illegally ousted as Pakrac mayor and in the fall of 1993, along with Mladen Kulic and Dusan Ecimovic who signed the agreement with him, he was arrested on charges of spying and endangering territorial integrity (under articles in the FRY criminal code). Two months later they were released but Dzakula and Kulic were arrested again that same day. They were released several days later.

Having seen what was in store for him and suspecting that the economic ignoring of Western Slavonia and undermining of any effort to normalize life were signs that Knin and Belgrade had abandoned the region, Dzakula spoke on NTV Studio B in February 1994. Eleven hours later, in the middle of the day, he was abducted in central Belgrade by people who must have been state security officers. Dzakula later told VREME that they beat him, took him to the Sremska Raca border crossing and turned him over to the RSK police.

"I spent four days in Knin jail on bread and water. My lawyer Ninko Miric helped me a lot and I got a lot of support from a meeting with people who were ready to help."

Dzakula was released then. He kept quiet, withdrew to Seovica village near Pakrac, grew corn and kept a VREME reporter waiting once while he was shearing sheep. All of Pakrac was waiting to hear what he would say but he kept quiet.

He got more lively once the Zagreb-Knin economic agreement was signed to regulate issues he had included in his agreement. The highway was reopened and Dzakula became more active taking over the Pakrac development fund and being unanimously elected for local government chairman.

Instead of a return of refugees, economic recovery and continued negotiations, the Croatian army attacked on May 1. Pakrac was cut off from the Sava river that day and several thousand people were surrounded. Dzakula stayed with them as well as the local council leaderships.

The men were separated from the women and children and taken to POW camps in Daruvar, Bejlovar, Varazdin and Slavonska Pozega. The women, children and elderly stayed in villages near Pakrac and Dzakula was arrested.

That probably won't be the end. Following the looting that US ambassador to Zagreb Peter Galbraith called "limited" the situation changed in Pakrac. The bodies were taken away, sings of robbery and violence were whitewashed.

It's not easy to predict what the remaining Pakrac Serbs will do. The ones who have relatives in the RSK, Bosnian Serb Republic or Yugoslavia probably will leave, risking resettlement in front line towns by Karadzic's people. Most have nowhere to go.